Turning Anti-Marriage Arguments Back on Themselves

Written by Freedom to Marry's New Media Intern Joe Girton.

Many controversial issues in America revolve around “the movable middle,” a constituency open to logical, sound arguments for or against political questions of all sorts. That’s why a recent statement from the anti-marriage National Organization for Marriage won’t get the group anywhere. Why? Because it makes as little sense.

On Wednesday, the Obama Administration declared that the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" was unconstitutional, and the Justice Department would no longer defend it. As you might expect, NOM issued an immediate condemnation filled with backwards logic and questionable reasoning. Let’s tear it apart.

The press release begins with a curious quote from NOM’s president, Brian Brown: “We have not yet begun to fight for marriage.” Huh? What have you been up to since 2007, then?

From then on, the statement focuses on dismissing the administration’s statement as “a truly shocking extra-constitutional power grab” by a weakened post-election Democratic Party. The truth  couldn’t be more different.

Attorney General Eric Holder’s letter to House Speaker John Boehner is a sober, thoughtfully reasoned legal document that incisively analyzes DOMA’s unconstitutionality via its violation of the 5th Amendment’s equal protection clause, and anticipatorily dismisses objections to the fining by debunking critics’ oft-cited (and oft-rejected) talking points such as “procreational duty.” It also follows historical precedents surrounding issues of discrimination.

As for NOM’s allegation that the Administration's move is timed as a response to midterm election losses, there’s a much simpler explanation. A deadline for the federal government to respond to lawsuits regarding DOMA on March 11 is fast approaching. The document brings the government’s policy in line with a fast-evolving attitude regarding marriage across America, reflecting polls that show majority support for the freedom to marry nationwide.

In contrast, NOM seems stuck in the past, stating that “[DOMA] was passed in 1996 by bi-partisan majorities and signed into law by President Clinton.” As Attorney General Holder writes, a lot’s changed since then: today, even former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, one of the law's original sponsors, says that DOMA should be repealed.

Obama’s decision is hardly some kind of abuse of executive power. As columnist Ruth Marcus writes in a new op-ed in the Washington Post, if anything, it’s the opposite. In refusing to defend DOMA, the White House is essentially letting the federal reins go: “The president’s move affirms states’ rights. After all, Obama is simply saying that the federal government will from now on respect a state’s definition of marriage – even if it encompasses same-sex marriage.” Is this principle of states’ rights not one of the original pillars of conservatism, anyway?

In the same column, Marcus shows how some of these anti-marriage arguments seem to be so illogical as to advocate for the freedom to marry. She cites a recent speech by prominent conservative Mike Huckabee in which the former Arkansas governor cites broken, fatherless families as an argument against ending marriage discrimination, or the detrimental effect of “the economic reality of out-of-wedlock children.”

Marcus points out that in fact, “gays and lesbians are clamoring for the right to avoid the very societal ill that Huckabee decries.” She’s right. Huckabee, in incomprehensibly referencing the inherent difficulties of living as an unmarried family, seems to argue for opening marriage to every loving, committed couple in order to guarantee the legal framework for protecting every family’s success and happiness.

In the 15 years that have passed since DOMA was enacted, support for marriage has skyrocketed, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been toppled, and DOMA has been dealt a serious blow by no less than the President of the United States. Who do you think is winning: common sense or divisive politics?